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  1. #1
    RPM: 85. MPH: varies. edtrek's Avatar
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    A Touring Navigation How-To Question (not necessarily GPS)

    I've done some touring on the Pittsburgh to DC trail - navigation is simple, you start at one end and follow the trail to the other end. This year I hope to take two on-road tours in places I'm not familiar with, and they're not marked as bike routes so I'm going to face a new task in navigating.

    Realizing that I can sure ride but I don't know a lot about navigating-while-riding, I've taken myself on a few complex rides in areas I don't know, and I've found that navigating is a task that (at my present skillset) seems to involve me stopping a lot.

    May I ask, how do you handle on-the-bike touring navigation? Is it a paper map? A cue sheet? A GPS with audio turn commands?

  2. #2
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    I generally use a map, but except for cases in which the roads are not well marked, I usually memorize the salient features of the map (major roads, landmarks, towns, etc.) at the beginning of the day and then only refer to the map if I feel unsure. I also navigate by the sun; if you know what time it is, you can determine approximately what direction you're going without too much trouble.

    In places where roads are few and far between (e.g. Wyoming), this method works pretty well. It isn't so good for areas where the roads are close together (e.g. anywhere east of the Appalachians).

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    I print out some maps from Google Maps & make a cue sheet & use the GPS basically only if I get off course & need to know where I am. GPS can be a big help in that regard but I was disappointed to find out that (ie with a Garmin) one can use their software to map out a route on one's PC & upload it to the GPS...BUT the things recalculate the route thereby screwing up the turn-by-turn directions. AFAIK that problem hasn't been fixed but I haven't researched the subject in the past year or so. Have a Verizon Droid phone, the screen is bigger than the Garmin but it's fairly useless for navigation, scrolling is slow & it often doesn't even work due (I guess) to slow network. It's 3G, a friend w/4G (not a biker) tells me the navigation works great on his phone.

    Some tourists make handy little cue sheet holders fitted onto stem or handlebar, I just keep the cue sheet in a jersey pocket.

    The Pittsburgh-DC trail sounds interesting since I live in the DC area.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DropBarFan View Post
    I print out some maps from Google Maps & make a cue sheet & use the GPS basically only if I get off course & need to know where I am. GPS can be a big help in that regard but I was disappointed to find out that (ie with a Garmin) one can use their software to map out a route on one's PC & upload it to the GPS...BUT the things recalculate the route thereby screwing up the turn-by-turn directions.
    What Garmin GPS are you using?

    I'm using the older Garmin Legend and it does not change your route once it's uploaded. In fact, the turn-by-turn instructions enable me to not even look at the "Map" while riding.

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    Quote Originally Posted by edtrek View Post
    A GPS with audio turn commands?
    I've mastered the GPS and won't go back to cue sheets again. A lot of county roads don't have street signs and you can get lost easily.

    Creating a route on a PC and uploading it takes time. A good route that avoids major highways can take an hour or planning on the PC and that's only for 75 miles!!

  6. #6
    Senior Member Doug64's Avatar
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    We completed a 2900 mile trip through 6 European countries this summer. We found a GPS loaded with Garmin's Euro maps invaluable, especially for getting out of big cities. We also relied on large scale Michelin Maps which we mailed home periodically. We had 11 pounds of maps in our mail box on our return! We did not plan more than 1 or 2 days at a time, and some times the route would change in the middle of the day. A lot depended on campground or the location of other types of accommodations. For us that is part of the fun-- knowing the places we would like to see, but improvising as we go about getting there.
    Last edited by Doug64; 02-05-12 at 09:17 AM. Reason: correction

  7. #7
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    I have never used a GPS.

    1) Go to your local Tourist Information centre and get some maps of your area (and any other areas of interest)

    2) Have a good look at the map. Pick a place you want to go this weekend. Decide how you want to get there.

    3) Place the map in your map case which is located on top of your handlebar bag

    4) Cycle there, following the map. And yes, there may be some points where you will stop to double check things on the map. But that's OK.

    5) Do that several times and you'll start to get good at following maps.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    On a long tour, I'll order free state maps thru the tourist bureaus. Each state has one. I then mark out my route and cut/paste the maps together so they fold into a convenient, small pkg. This after plotting the route on Google and looking at a few street/satellite views.

    I also take a Garmin eTrex with a track of my route loaded. No gps will corrupt a track file. They are easy to make on www.ridewithgps.com and can be as long as you want.

    I rarely refer to the map unless I want to see the big picture of the area or check/verify gps directions.

    People love giving directions to wayfaring strangers. For interaction along the way, ask someone. Then get out your map and/or gps and verify what they said. Or ask two other people and keep your fingers crossed.
    The bicycle is one of the great inventions of mankind. Delights children, challenges young men to feats of daring, and turns old men into boys again.--Me

  9. #9
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclebum View Post
    On a long tour, I'll order free state maps thru the tourist bureaus.
    I recommend going to the Tourist Information places in person. Here in Australia just about every town has one somewhere in the middle of town ... in Canada, many larger towns and cities have one, and they are usually located on the outskirts of town on a main highway. I have been able to find some in the US, in similar locations as in Canada.

    You can find state/province maps for free or a small price. You can find quite detailed maps for a price. And you can often find smaller tourist maps which will show the scenic routes ... those kinds of maps are free.

    I usually carry a general state/province map if I'm on a long tour, as well as the appropriate tourist maps. If I'm on a shorter tour, I just bring the tourist maps.

    One of the nice things about the tourist maps is that they often make note of interesting things to see and do along the way.

    Tourist Information centres also have accommodation information, activity information, restaurant information, etc. etc. which can be quite interesting.


    When I get into a new area, one of the first things I do is to head for the local Tourist Information centre to have a look around.

    Oh, as it happens, here in Australia some Tourist Information centres have campgrounds right behind them ... so that's really convenient for cyclists.

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    Tourist info generally have maps and camping guides for their own region but not adjacent ones.

    I do a lot of navigation in complex road/trail networks and I found that a bar bag with a map holder speeded me up more than anything. I can refer to the map without stopping. A clear plastic map holder takes care of rain.
    A small button compass is essential to orient the map. On a cloudy or misty day in the forest it can be hard identifying North without tracking skills.

    I usually start the day with a rough idea of where I intend to finish and clarify the exact destination by lunchtime. I often pick a route based on how nice the road is, rather than where it goes.
    You have to identify and navigate for pinch points, eg a crossing point of a river or major road.
    The hardest navigation is leaving a city on the correct road. I found that in some countries, many people have no concept of maps or direction or distance and asking them for directions is useless.

  11. #11
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    Maps, cue sheets and/or memory, depending on the complexity. Used a combination of all three this summer. Some days there were one or two turns, so I could rely on my memory. Getting into and out of a larger city was accomplished with a brief cue sheet. The rest of the time I used a map and tried to remember the turns.

  12. #12
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    I have never used a GPS.

    1) Go to your local Tourist Information centre and get some maps of your area (and any other areas of interest)

    2) Have a good look at the map. Pick a place you want to go this weekend. Decide how you want to get there.

    3) Place the map in your map case which is located on top of your handlebar bag

    4) Cycle there, following the map. And yes, there may be some points where you will stop to double check things on the map. But that's OK.

    5) Do that several times and you'll start to get good at following maps.
    Been doing it this way for years...it was the only way before Al Bore invented the internet

    If I am going to a new area I may pull the maps up on Google just to get a feel for the area, possibly print some cue sheets. They go in the handlebar bag, or under the map in the map pocket.

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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by edtrek View Post
    May I ask, how do you handle on-the-bike touring navigation? Is it a paper map? A cue sheet? A GPS with audio turn commands?
    I use a Garmin Edge 705 gps/bike computer and take paper maps as a backup. I load the Edge with a pre-plotted route rather than trust it's internal routing. Beeps are turned off; the bike moves slowly enough and I look at the computer often enough that they aren't necessary. The Edge will run for up to 2 days on a single charge, but I try to charge it once/day just to be safe. Can't remember the last time I looked at a paper map for anything...

  14. #14
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    Navigation: this may not apply unless you are looking for a particular type of adventure tour, but you could consider taking no nav aids at all. Get on the bike, ride - stop and ask people you meet for information. Amazing what you will find out there that you would not even notice by using GPS or maps. I myself use lots of navaids, gps, maps iphone to search with google and none of them are as satisfying as stopping to chat with humans.

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    I like paper maps.I just find where I want to end up,then head that direction......Whatever happens in the middle.....THAT"S the touring part.....

    Will I get lost?.....Yep!

    Forever?.....Not yet........Couple more years.....

    I like getting lost.....see new things.
    Last edited by Booger1; 02-06-12 at 11:53 AM.
    Everything should be as simple as possible...But not more so.---Albert Einstein

  16. #16
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lhendrick View Post
    Navigation: this may not apply unless you are looking for a particular type of adventure tour, but you could consider taking no nav aids at all. Get on the bike, ride - stop and ask people you meet for information. Amazing what you will find out there that you would not even notice by using GPS or maps.
    This is often how I ride around my "local" area. I will usually carry a map of some sort tucked into my trunk bag just in case, and here in Australia I've taken to carrying maps in my map case much more frequently for some reason ... but it's great fun to turn down this road simply because I wonder where it goes.

    Several of my centuries in Manitoba were like that ... I just kept exploring, and next thing I knew I had ridden 100 miles (or more).

    Doing that sort of thing locally (say, within a 100 km radius of where you live), and occasionally comparing what you are seeing with your eyes with what's on the map, will give you some good navigational skills.

  17. #17
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    I have never used a GPS while touring, so don't imagine them to be indispensable. They might be great for finding one's way out of a large city, but I avoid population hubs while on bicycle tours. So that's not an issue.

    I use two strategies: detailed maps, and hand-drawn maps that I prepare for each day.

    Here is how it works: Before I begin the day, I study a detailed map, decide where I want to end up, and then draw a "map" that is not to scale, but that has all of the salient details I need to get into my destination. For example, my "map" may show only the main turns, highway numbers, village names, and attractions that I might want to stop at. If I am not sure of which route would be best, I draw in alternatives.

    For the most part, I don't refer to the detailed map as I travel, only my hand-drawn ones. I try to make my maps for the evening before, after supper; sometimes, I create a revised map when I stop for lunch.

    On occasion, I ignore my maps, and go where whimsy takes me. Also, I have had the experience of a local person telling me about a nice route, and then followed their advice.

  18. #18
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    I've navigated around European cities/towns with no maps at all ... just using landmarks.

    Many cities/towns have at least one church with a tall steeple, often located on a hill, and often located in the middle of town. Once you've located that, it's not too difficult to meander through town to the other side by keeping an eye on the location of the steeple.

    Also, if you're looking for a train station, the main ones are often located in the middle of town too ... so just head for the steeple, and you've got a decent chance of coming across the train station along the way.

    And here's another tip if you end up somewhere without a map or other navigational tools ... we used this one in Strasburg, and a couple other places in France ... the bus shelters will sometimes have a map of the bus route, plus a few extra details, up on their walls. We pulled up and had a glance to confirm that we were still heading in the right direction.

    Here in Australia, there will sometimes be a map on the wall outside a grocery store (if the Tourist Information Centre is closed). In our little town, there's a more detailed map of the town and surrounds, and also a more general map of one half of the shire. A glance at that, and maybe a quick hand-drawn map lik acantor describes, and you're on the road again.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dahon.Steve View Post
    What Garmin GPS are you using?

    I'm using the older Garmin Legend and it does not change your route once it's uploaded. In fact, the turn-by-turn instructions enable me to not even look at the "Map" while riding.

    I have the Garmin Etrex Legend HCx & practiced using local suburban routes (which tend to complicate things with the close intersections, streets etc. The Garmin always messed up the route by adding things like pointless U-turns. Did you use PC software to create the route? (The Garmin software?) Any other special techniques for creating the route? TIA for any tips.

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    [QUOTE=Cyclebum;13811304]On a long tour, I'll order free state maps thru the tourist bureaus. Each state has one. I then mark out my route and cut/paste the maps together so they fold into a convenient, small pkg. This after plotting the route on Google and looking at a few street/satellite views.

    I also take a Garmin eTrex with a track of my route loaded. No gps will corrupt a track file. They are easy to make on www.ridewithgps.com and can be as long as you want.

    But I thought the eTrex won't give turn-by-turn directions with a track file...it has to be waypoint-based for that? Well it's been a few years since I tried experimenting with the turn-by-turn routing, don't remember all the details though I did research & found numerous webpages & posts mentioning the gps turn-by-turn routing problem. I'll look at ridewithgps.com, thanks.

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